POLITICAL AND SOCIAL LIFE
I.—THE CENTRAL POWER. II.—PROVINCIAL ORGANIZATION. III.—THE MIÉSTNITCHESTVO. IV.—THE COMMUNE. V.—JUDICIAL ORGANIZATION AND LEGISLATION. VI.—THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM. VII.—THE FINANCES.
I.—The Central Power.
The machine was not built and set in motion in a day. When Ivan the Terrible came to the throne it already boasted a very complicated mechanism and a multiplicity of machinery—the result, it may be, of the ancient organization, domestic in some sort, adapted to the modest existence of the appanaged Princes, as admitted by Monsieur Klioutchevski ('The Council of the Boyards in Ancient Russia,' 1883, 2ndedition, p. 19, etc.), or possibly, as Monsieur Serguiéiévitch asserts, distinct political organs. I cannot here enter into this discussion. There were offices, or rather departments, the numbers of which were perpetually on the increase, and the duties of which were divided in most irregular fashion. This was because their creation and activity corresponded with the progress of conquest and colonization. A certain department—one of the older ones—would have to deal with affairs in a great many provinces. Such was the War Office (razriadnyi prikaz). Another, again, was responsible for the whole of the business of one recently-acquired province. This was the case of the Kazan office, after the capture of that town (Kasanskiï dvorets) the Office of Foreign Affairs (possolskiï prikaz), naturally served the whole Empire. The powers of certain provincial bureaus—those of Moscow, Vladimir, Dmitriév, and Riazan—were restricted to certain fields within the limits of their provinces, and thus combined the distinguishing features of the institutions belonging to the two first categories.
Here, as elsewhere, the disorder of battle was apparent.
To work and control this varied machinery a central spring was needed. Where was it? In the Sovereign's hand? Not so, apparently. At the head of the departments was the Council of Boïars (Boïarskaïa) which bore a pretty close analogy to the 'Council' of the first Capet Kings, or to the curia regia of the Norman Kings of England. Here, as there, it was the product of history, springing from the national association organized in the fifteenth century on the banks of the Oka and the Upper Volga, and consequent on the military formation then adopted. Head of this band, the Prince of Moscow, like every other General, was bound to consult his lieutenants about any operations of importance, and the Boïarskaia Douma, in its first form, was a mere Council of War, transformed, in later times, by the complication of interests it was called on to discuss. Head of his patrimony, the Sovereign had to reckon, too, with the descendants of his former comrades, now settled, like himself, on hereditary domains, over which they exercised a partial authority. Thus, the competence of the Council of War took on a political character, and in its composition an aristocratic tincture became strongly marked.
In the sixteenth century sixty-two families, forty of which held princely rank, seem to have sat on it by right. But was it really a right? No; an eligibility rather, utilized at the Sovereign's will and pleasure. And here, already, appears the powerlessness of an institution which might have been regarded as a restriction on the absolute power. The lack of corporative organization prevented it from attaining any sufficient power of resistance. Many boïars and Princes habitually appear at these councils, but with them we note a still more numerous company of functionaries who are neither boïars nor Princes—high officers of the Crown (okolnitchyié, from okolo, around, men who are about the Prince), courtiers, (dvorianié), and even mere clerks (diaki). As a fact, it did not suffice to be of great family in order to be summoned on this Council. On a list for the year 1527 we do not see a single Galitzine, nor Kourakine, nor Vorotynski, nor Pronski, nor Khovanski, nor Prozorovski, nor Repnine, nor Soltykov. The names I have quoted are some of the greatest of that century. Nor did it follow that because a man had been called on one council he was to be summoned again. For one piece of business, twenty out of the hundred men on the list might be warned, and for another, only eight. There was no rule, and no usual course of things to take its place. The function of councillor, like the rank, depended on the Sovereign's will, and, in a sense, the function always continued something apart from the rank. In this we have the germ of the future organization of the tchine.
The competence of this body was extensive, and, in a way, unlimited. It was not confined to the enlightenment of the Sovereign. In concert with him, the Council wielded every power—legislative, judicial, and administrative. It governed, in the widest meaning of the word, and that whether collectively or individually. A doumnyi dvorianine who had just been taking his share in some debate on a question of foreign policy might be sent as provincial governor to Viatka, and then to command a regiment at Siévsk, or, between two similar appointments, he might be delegated to represent his Prince as cross-bearer in some solemn procession, or carry the dishes sent from the Sovereign's table to some distinguished personage. And after all that, going back to his Council sittings, he might have to decide a lawsuit for which the Council had resolved itself into a Court of Appeal. It would seem, at all events, that an article of the Code of 1497 mentions a jurisdiction of this nature conferred on the Douma.
To get through all this work, the Council must have found the two daily sittings mentioned by the chroniclers all too short. It sat, in summertime, from seven in the morning till one or two o'clock in the afternoon; and then again, after an obligatory attendance on the Sovereign at Mass, dinner, and a siesta, from sunset till late at night. But, in practice, this heavy work only fell on a certain number of councillors at a time, and their intervals of service were widely spaced. As a general rule, the institution did no work at all. And was it really so much as a regular institution? It was the fiction, rather, of a division of power which, from the sixteenth century onwards, especially, had but a shadowy and deceptive appearance of reality. Whether they really acted together or separately, the fiction still united every act of the Sovereign and his Douma. The master, even if absent, was supposed to be invariably present at the deliberations of the assembly, and even if he acted independently, he was held to be acting in concert with it. Monsieur Serguiéiévitch is wrong, as it appears to me, when he pronounces against the theory of this mystic union; it survived the Douma, and was perpetuated in Peter the Great's relations with his Senate. But it was an idea, and nothing more. The fact—from the sixteenth century onward, more especially—is the existence of a personal and absolute power, exercised by the Sovereign assisted by another deliberative assembly, the composition of which was still more arbitrarily settled, while its more restricted membership left a yet wider margin for absolutism; a private council, generally held in the Sovereign's bedroom, and only consisting of two or three boïars or confidential men of any rank—a reproduction of the commune consilium noticed, concurrently with the magnum consilium, in the organization of all the European monarchies, but vaguer and more uncertain in its nature, in this particular place, and more completely subject to the master's will or caprice.
And in certain provinces the master's authority is undivided, even in appearance. In certain districts, as we shall presently see, jurisdiction, either as a special right belonging to the Sovereign or as a privilege claimed by those amenable to justice, by virtue of special charters (tarkhany), is in the hands of his direct agents. In similar fashion, he alone has the right to consider the petitions addressed, by ancient usage, to the Prince, and which became so numerous as to necessitate the establishment, in the sixteenth century, of a special office—the Tchelobitnyï prikaz, the germ of the future 'secret chancery'—to deal with them.
Consequently, the Sovereign was, in actual fact, the real and only government, and his councillors, like his 'service men,' were only so many soldiers whom he ordered about—pawns pushed hither and thither on the chess-board, without any possible resistance or control of theirs. In an army, the Council of War attains importance, makes itself heard, even imposes its decisions, as long as the campaign goes ill; but when victory comes, the General-in-Chief, successful and conscious of his power, soon sends his staff to the right-about. A Napoleon's plans are not subject to discussion. Moscow was victorious; she passed from triumph to triumph, and the heirs of Kalita, having no account to render for the past, claimed the privilege of rendering none in future.
Such was the central situation, and a similar type of military organization was repeated round it.
It essentially depended on the possession of the land. The possession of land entailed two kinds of obligations on its proprietors. If they were peasants, they owed taxes; if they held freeholds (vottchiny) or fiefs (pomiéstia), they owed service, they were sloojilyié—that is to say, besides the civil functions with which they might be invested, they constituted the Sovereign's army, quartered on their territorial possessions in time of peace, and instantly mobilized in time of war. Service began when a boy was fifteen. At that age the son of a pomiéchtchik received a portion of the paternal domain, or, if the family was too numerous to permit of that, a fresh allotment. When the pomiéchtchik died, his lands were divided up among his sons, the girls, too, receiving shares in which they had a life-interest only, and which they had to relinguish if they married. If the land did not suffice, an additional allotment could be claimed. The exchange of pomiéstia was allowed, on condition the State suffered no damage; for its service, every man must be replaced by another. In the case of the vottchiny, the State nominally did not intervene in matters of inheritance, but it took care that each lot of land should be represented by a man capable of service.
The system was evidently more easily applied in the case of the pomiéchtchiki. The Sovereign, who was master of their fortunes, had them much more completely in hand. Wherefore the policy of Moscow invariably tended to replacing freeholds by fiefs, putting life grants in the place of hereditary domains. On the lands annexed to the Empire by force of arms this process of substitution was far easier, and was rapidly accomplished. The laws of war, admitting, as they did, of wholesale confiscation and the distribution of the confiscated lands, provided for it. Twenty years after the annexation of Novgorod we find, in a document dated 1500, that in the two districts of Ladoga and Oriéchek 106 pomiéchtchiki held half the arable land between them; most of these were of the humbler class, artisans and servants, and consequently all the more docile. The judicial ancestor of the ordinary type of landed proprietor of that country in the sixteenth century is the dog-boy of the appanaged Prince of the fourteenth—obedience is in his blood.
Elsewhere, in countries where the work of unification had been done with a gentle hand, the vottchiny were still in the majority. They were much less manageable, and against them the furious onslaught to which the Terrible owes his title was to be launched.
The pomiéstia class, which spread still more generally as the result of this struggle, laboured under another drawback. Owing to that insufficiency of land at the Sovereign's disposal, to which I have already alluded, a landed proletariat came into existence. One pomiéchtchik called out for military service complains that he has not the means to provide himself with a horse. Another, who, while he awaits the promised allotment of land, performs the functions of a church chorister, does not even possess the wherewithal to serve on foot. Yet the numbers are kept up, after all, and the Sovereign's army costs him nothing.
But he must have an administration besides, and this costs nobody but the governed anything at all. To administer meant, in those days, to exercise justice and keep criminals in order—nothing more—and those who did it were fed. Here, too, the general system was the same. By virtue of ancient privilege on most allodial properties, by virtue of special charters on other lands, the owners, soldiers, or even Churchmen, sat in judgment—in other words, they traded, on their own account, on the rights of justice, which they turned to their personal profit. They pocketed the proceeds of pettifoggery, minted into taxes and charges of various kinds, and the proceeds of public prosecutions, in the shape of fines paid by convicted persons, or, failing them, by their communes. On lands which escaped this jurisdiction the trade in judicial matters was divided between the direct agents of the State, acting for it, and other service men,' to whom the State delegated its rights and profits, and who represented it in the guise of lieutenants (namiéstniki), bailies (volostniéli), and governors. To govern a town or province was to live on that town or province by means of charges levied on the dispensation of justice. This was called kormlénié, from kormit, to feed, and the governors were the kormlenchtchiki, par excellence. When, at a later period, the economic life of the country called for administrative agents in the true sense of the word, the thought of using the governors for this purpose never occurred to anybody. New needs brought new organs into being, and the old ones stayed on to be fed, and with no other raison d'être.
The kormlénié, which was in perfect harmony with the territorial rights of the vottchiny, and much more a privilege than a function, was connected with civil rather than with political rights. A boïar's widow might claim it, or his other heirs if there was no widow—any of the deceased man's family, in fact. In the same way, while the governor turned his province to account, the bailie, within his own bailiwick, was not the governor's subordinate, but his competitor. He kept certain classes of business and people in his own jurisdiction—he had legal power over the 'black' lands, for instance, whereas the 'white' lands were ruled by his neighbour.
The abuses to which this system lent itself may be imagined. In theory, indeed, the expenses of judicial proceedings were defined, and profits limited to what they ought to bring. But there were extras, bribes which must be paid, the result of the wholesale trickery rampant in an organization over which no effectual control existed. This was the plague-spot on the whole system.
There was no rule—no rule laid down, at all events—for the recruiting of this double set of State servants. The Sovereign chose whom he would. Yet, practically, his choice was limited by the difficulty of finding, outside a certain social class, men fit to do the work. The Moscow policy strove to widen these borders and take in fresh blood, drawn from every class of society, even the humblest. These democratic tendencies were checked by the lack of sufficient intellectual development. Dog-boys whose training permitted them to cut a decent figure in the guise of namiéstniki were not common. And thus it came about that the social element, the hereditary principle, and the aristocratic spirit all blended with the political element and the principle of co-optation, and produced in the result a phenomenon the like of which has never been seen in any other European country: the miéstnitchestvo. The very name is hardly known outside Russia. I will endeavour to explain the thing.
It means, theoretically, the right, not established by any code, but recognised by custom, whereby no sloojilyi ordered to serve with another of his class could be given a place (miésto) inferior to any held by himself or his ancestors with relation to the said comrade or his forefathers. Take two men appointed to command two battalions of the same regiment. Both are sons of boïars, but the grandfather of one, being a General, has had the father or grandfather of the other under his orders. Here is a case of miéstnitchestvo: the General's grandson has an absolute right to refuse to serve with the comrade suggested to him. There is no reason why his Sovereign, if such were his goodwill and pleasure, should not turn him into a stableman, and he would not dare to object, unless, sweeping the dung out of the same stable, he were to meet some other stableman whose father had been a scullion when his own progenitor was handling the saucepans. But he cannot be turned into a General willing to share his rank and command with that scullion's son.
Now consider that the calculation of precedence thus claimed affected ancestry in every degree and branch, and conceive the complication and frequency of the disputes thus engendered. The political life of the Muscovite State has been full of them, and they have constituted the sole restriction, but a serious one, on the Sovereign's absolute power.
Pogodine has sought the origin of the miéstnitchestvo in the relations between the appanaged Princes. But this theory has few partisans now. In the first disputes of this nature of which we have cognisance, and which, indeed, coincide with the appearance of the earliest books on genealogy (rodoslovnyia knigi), the family principle is more generally and strongly marked. The Muscovite Government, in its own interest, respected and cultivated this principle, on which its dynastic establishment was based, and out of its endeavour to combine it with its contradictory system of a hierarchy based on 'service' came the miéstnitchestvo. The Government welcomed it at first. The disputes it stirred, all directly and solely concerned with places conferred by the Sovereign, ran absolutely counter to the corporative spirit: they excluded all idea of an aristocracy, properly so-called, and strengthened that of 'service.' And at first they were mere private matters, and affected trifles only. One boïar claimed another boïar's seat at a friend's table; the wives of two high functionaries fought over their places in church; a Bishop—for the clergy were interested in the matter, too—refused to eat out of the same dish with another and less well-connected prelate. In the 'black' clergy, indeed, there was a hierarchy of monasteries, and monks within the communities quarrelled over their places in the processions that followed the holy ikons. Merchants obeyed the general lead, and the great dramatist Ostrovski has demonstrated the survivance even to our own day of the habits then contracted in that class of life.
But a time came when, on a day of battle, in the very face of the enemy, two Generals began a squabble of this sort. This was at Orcha, in 1514, and the battle was a failure. A change was indispensable. The Government tried everything—the suspension of precedence for a fixed period during a campaign, for instance, and severe penalties in the case of any unjustified claim—but did not dare to lay its hand on the unwritten, but all the more strongly rooted, privilege. The aristocracy used all its powers, fired its last shots, set all its last haughty hopes upon the die, and forgot, while thus plunged in its calculations of nobility, that power was slipping from its hands. For many years, indeed, the highest places were given to the nobles, because at first the State could not fill them up otherwise. But when other candidates were to be had. the miéstnitchestvo was powerless to resist a democratic levelling process harmonizing with the State's own principles. By putting forward the posts bestowed by the Sovereign's free-will as a factor in family calculations, it destroyed the generic element of its own social and corporate value; it elaborated, as a reinvestment, a collective body of another kind, more docile, more pliable, and but for which the Russia of the sixteenth century might perhaps have failed in her tremendous task; but it was not a class—it was a crew rather, a regiment, a convict gang.
This system, by setting up individual qualification against birth, certainly succeeded, in some measure, and on a final analysis, in bringing out another fruitful principle—personality; and it would thus be most unjust to regard the miéstnitchestvo, with Valouiév and some other historians, as an instance of Chinese immobility. The system itself was not unchangeable. It altered in the course of time: it developed; it felt and exercised divers reactions. But though, by its passive resistance, it raised serious obstacles in the path of absolutism, it did not bring any such social or political force to bear as might, by paralyzing its action, have supplied its place, directed or controlled it.
Another force of this nature existed, in embryo at least, in the communal organization to which I have already referred.
The appearance of Baron von Haxthausen's studies of the Russian commune as it now exists, with its autonomous administration and its collective proprietorship, was a revelation, even a joyful surprise, to Russia. It was like the discovery of a new world, proving the originality and excellence of a primordial institution, in which the nation felt it might glory in the face of astonished Europe. This proud conviction had a fall. Further inquiry proved a pre-existence of similar institutions in all countries, European and others—from Ireland to Java, from Egypt to India. The difference, then, between Russia and her Western neighbours was narrowed to one of age and civilization. But the pursuit of truth and the disappointments resulting therefrom did not end here. Students began to think they perceived that the Russian commune, which had been taken to be identical with primitive forms of organization, delayed and kept in the rudimentary form by a slower development of social and economic life, was really a thing of recent growth. Far from being the outcome of the patriarchal communism of prehistoric times, was it not rather the result of a collective responsibility for the payment of taxes—a responsibility unknown to the free peasants of the sixteenth century, and imposed on the rural communities of a later date by the law of serfdom? A fossil formation? Not a bit! A product of the political system which triumphed in Russia under Ivan IV.? A national trait? No, again! A State institution.
Thus, according to the point of view set forth by Monsieur Tchitcherine ('Essays on the History of Russian Law,' 1858, p. 4, etc.), and still more recently by Monsieur Milioukov ('Essays on the History of Russian Culture,' i., p. 186, etc.), we here have an instance, and a most striking one, of that reversed progress which, in some things, appears a peculiarity of the economic and social development of this country.
But is it a well-chosen instance?
During the first half of the sixteenth century serfdom, as we have seen, was only an occasional condition in Russia. But the commune, with its association of free peasants, already existed. Every peasant, in fact, was bound to belong to one of these associations. Those who lived outside their borders were mere vagabonds. These associations were autonomous organizations, within which a democratic and communistic form of existence reigned. The assembly which discussed the common interests was composed of the elders of every household in a certain district, which included several of these associations, and was called a volost. This in no way resembled the institution now known by this name. The ancient volost, which was something between the canton and the commune in France, and somewhat approached the American township, possessed far more extensive privileges. The assembly which represented it at this period had power to issue decrees (by-laws); it chose the mayors (golovy) and the elders (starosty) of the commune; it allocated the direct taxes imposed by Government on trade and agriculture; it appointed the members of each commune who were to help the judges to exercise their functions, or play the part allotted to the schöffen in ancient Germany, and to the nemd in Sweden; and finally, through freely-elected magistrates, it kept order and defended the common interests before the judges.
Such, at least, is the state of things of which traces are discoverable on the 'black' lands, owned by free peasants. But it is impossible to assert that the same condition existed on lands of the other class, concurrently with that judicial and police organization amidst which the privileged magistrates wielded their authority. On the other hand, and on these very lands, even in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, signs and rudiments of collective possession or holdings have been detected. In the centre of the country more especially, the documents of the period make frequent reference to husbandmen, called sossiédy (neighbours), skladniki (from skladat, to put together), or siabry, who seem to have been peasants associated together to work a certain stretch of land. Monsieur Serguiéiévitch, though he interprets the name and manner of life of these husbandmen in a different sense, believing them to have bound themselves together for the payment of their obligations only, grants, in his 'Judicial Antiquities' (1903, vol. iii., p. 61, etc., and 119, etc.), the existence of other agrarian communities. On the lands held by the higher clergy and by the monasteries, the history of which is much better known, the enjoyment of certain hired areas seems to have been common to all the tenants, inasmuch as the lot given to one family, the vit, or sokha, as in the case of the English virgate, did not constitute a right to occupy one particular space, enclosed within certain limits, but that to occupy and till five diéssiatines, for instance, in each of the three fields belonging to the manor. On one property belonging to the Troïtsa monastery (Serguiéiévitch, ibid., p. 440) we note, quite as an exception, the tillage in common of parcels of ground made over to associations of peasants. And on the lands confiscated by the father of Ivan the Terrible after the annexation of Novgorod, lands taken from boïars and given to qualified peasants, a common ownership in meadows, lakes, and forests certainly sprang up, and showed a tendency to develop. But all this was local, rudimentary, or recent, a far cry from the full and general collectivity of the Russian mir of our days, with its periodical redivision of allotments, like the run-rig on certain modern manor lands in England and Ireland. In those days the mir only existed in the most embryonic form, and no possibility offers, so far, for tracing either its origin or its mode of development.
This development occurred in the fifteenth century. At that period the Russian commune was assuredly not a rel the patriarchal organization of the old times, wiped out by the Norman invasion, or even before that, as some historians have admitted, by the admixture of foreign and Finnish elements with the Slav race. But were there any Finns in ancient Southern Russia? The fact is not clear. Was this renovated commune a resurrection of the ancient communistic régime, called forth by the permanence of certain social habits? Or was it the entirely new product of a spontaneous generative process, to be explained, as the Slavophils are inclined to explain it, by a special aptitude of the national temperament for a communistic life? These are knotty questions, and the demands of the national vanity do not facilitate their solution. That such an aptitude may exist is undeniable. Of that the artels are a standing proof. But in Germany, and more especially in England, as in the case of those guilds which have held out against the whole force of modern centralization, the spirit of association has proved infinitely more energetic.
I am disposed to opine that the two principles of historic atavism and congenital predisposition, working on a population in the case of which the inorganic stage had been exceedingly prolonged, combined to determine the production of this rudimentary organization on the very threshold of the modern epoch. The Russian commune of the fifteenth century has no family quality about it. It is open to all comers. Any peasant who pays his share of the common obligations can enter it. It is purely conventional, and this characteristic distinguishes it from the antique formations preserved, in their primitive peculiarities, amongst some other Slav peoples. Yet a certain administrative autonomy brings it back to this ancestral type. The nature and character of this autonomy are likewise open to discussion. Did the commune of the fourteenth century bear any part, and, if so, what part, in the exercise of justice? This is still an open question. But it is certain, nevertheless, that the judicial organization of that period, and the system, already described, of the kormlénié, left little room for the exercise of any rival power. This domain belonged to the 'service men.' It was a private preserve. For in those days any man amenable to justice was still fair game.
But with the following century the scene changes. Communal autonomy suddenly widens its borders. It tends towards the absorption of the whole of the provincial administration, and of all the powers thereto attached. What has happened? This—that the 'service men' have failed in their task. They have worked the land so hard that they have ruined it. By their exactions and extravagance they have not only done serious damage to private interests, for which the State cares little, but they have compromised the interests for which the State does care—they have destroyed or diminished its taxable property. And the State, wavering between the two poles of its own political theory, then in course of evolution, between the current of absolutism and the current of liberty, resolves to break down privileges it has itself conferred, and which have not borne their expected fruit, and withdraws functions the bestowal of which it now regrets. For the discharge of these, it calls on the elements of that communal organization it has long scorned and even misused. Charters, bestowed by a more and more liberal hand, place the communal starosts and wardens in possession of a power tending first to the diminution and then to the suppression of that once held by the lieutenants and bailiffs of the Crown. But for all that, the State does not drop its fundamental programme; it does not quite abdicate its despotism. Between this last, and the spirit of the institutions thus called to play a new part, it seeks a compromise, and finds it in the separation of the authority it concedes from the independence it refuses. These magistrates, whose powers it has increased, will still be functionaries, men of its own, and the commune, thus widened and glorified, will be a State institution—we shall watch this phase—until, under the law of serfdom, the approaching evolution gives it yet another form—the autonomy of the galleys, the association of the chain that binds one pair of legs to another.
To comprehend these successive changes we must devote a closer, though still a cursory, examination to the working of the particular parts of the machine affected by them.
V.—Judicial Organization and Legislation.
Till towards the middle of the sixteenth century this sphere is wholly ruled by the idea that the administration of justice is a privilege, a valuable asset. Fiscal agents and Crown officers on the 'black lands,' property-owners on the 'white,' all feed or are fed at the same manger. Decrees are pretexts, first and foremost, for levying taxes; the repression of crime is, above all things, a financial operation. Even though cognizance of certain crimes, such as murder and brigandage, is reserved to the State, it is all a question of cash, even there. These affairs bring in more money, and the State keeps the best morsels for itself.
Wherefore, in the Code of 1497—after the Rousskaïa Pravda, the earliest copy of which dates from 955 or 962, legislation has come to a standstill—the provisions for criminal cases rank first. In civil cases the legislator generally defers to custom. He hardly mentions the relations and obligations arising out of family ties or contracts, and is absolutely silent concerning all other judicial relations. As regards public rights, he gives nothing, or hardly anything. There is some dim conception of a right of guardianship over the common people, vested in the State, evidenced by an injunction that no man must be deprived of his liberty without the Sovereign's consent. The legislator's chief anxiety has been to organize the work of justice, and organization, in his view, consists in the reckoning up and allotment of expenses and taxation. The Soudiébnik is a penal code and a book of profits, very little else.
In the number and severity of the penalties suggested, the Tartar influence is clearly seen. The Rousskaïa Pravda was a far gentler Code, and a more liberal one, too; it gave the culprit power in many cases to buy himself off. The new Code ignores this privilege. The words bity knouty, biti batogy, recur in almost every line. In the application of these penalties, and in the whole of its legislation, the idea of equality, which is very apparent and accords with the democratic tendencies of the Code, is at war with the contrary principle of vested rights claimed by the Byzantine spirit of the Church. Judicial practice itself was thus drawn from the civil sources of the Greek legislation—from the laws of Constantine the Great, Justinian, and Leo the Philosopher, from the Eclogues of Leo the Isaurian and Constantine Copronymus; so that if these tribunals are responsible for the peasant as well as for everybody else, the peasant will be hanged, and the boïar only whipped or put in prison. In most cases, too, he will be tortured to make him confess his crime. The accused person is always put to slow torture: his ribs are broken in, nails driven into his flesh. This is the sixteenth century!
Up till the seventeenth, this same Code, lingering far behind the rest of Europe, will accept the judicial combat, also part of the habits of the country. At Novgorod the law even permitted such combats between two women who accused each other, while at Pskov a more gallant statute allowed the fair sex to find male substitutes, the same privilege being extended to old men, infirm persons, and monks.
Ivan IV.'s Code was to provide for a similar equalization of the combatants' strength. But at that moment the judicial combat was beginning to change its nature. It had long been looked on as a merely human expedient, held in scant respect, and ranking lower than confession and testimony among the means available for demonstrating the truth. As a mark of distrust and scorn, the oath and the casting of lots were added to it. Before proceeding to the combat the oath was taken, and the oath was deferred till after the casting of lots. The idea of Divine intervention did not present itself save in a latent condition; but now it began to rear its head and gather strength. The judicial combat was taking on the form of a Divine judgment.
In this fact some people will recognise another instance of Russia's reversed march in the path of progress; it will be recollected, in any case, that the ordalie proscribed in France by the edict of Louis le Débonnaire, in 829, was forbidden, and forbidden afresh by the French Parliament in 1400. And, indeed, this ordalie was not quite the same thing. It essentially depended on the idea of a celestial arbitrament, which was not associated with such encounters, in Russia, till a late period. It was a mere legacy, in her case, of a barbarous past, when each man did justice for himself, and when the decision of every quarrel depended on the personal valour of the disputants. Thus, far from favouring its maintenance and application as she favoured the various appeals to the Divine judgment in other places, the Church, even while labouring to endue the custom with a religious meaning, opposed its practice. She succeeded by this means in withdrawing its two accessories—the oath and the casting of lots—which were finally made independent forms of proof. At a fairly early date, this last was currently employed in ecclesiastical business. The sentence was drawn like a lottery-ticket. Before the common law tribunals similar judicial methods were pursued, down to the close of the sixteenth century, according to a procedure of which Henry Lane, an English commercial agent, gives a curious account in connection with a lawsuit in which he was interested, in the year 1560.
It was connected with a sum of 600 roubles claimed from him by a Kostroma merchant. The matter was to have been decided, in the first instance, by a single combat, for the purposes of which Lane had provided himself with a redoubtable champion in the person of a fellow-countryman of his own, employed, like himself, by the English trading company settled in Russia. This man, whose name was Romanus Best, was destined to become the founder of an illustrious Russian family, the Bestoujev. But the Kostroma man, thinking his opponent too dangerous, no doubt objected to him, and recourse was then had to the casting of lots. In the presence of two high officials, who acted as judges, and a numerous audience, the two parties were first of all invited to come to terms. Then, neither being willing to yield, the judges, turning up their sleeves, exhibited two balls of wax, and one of them hailed a member of the crowd. 'You there, with such a coat and such a cap, come here!' The man advanced, held out his cap, into which the two balls were put, and then another man, chosen in the same way, drew them out, one after the other. The first drawn won the battle, and as it turned out, the Englishman got his verdict; whereupon the audience applauded, quite convinced of the excellence of the cause thus gained, and of the uprightness of English merchants in general ('Hakluyt Collection,' ii., p. 209).
The reasons which prevented the State from putting the same confidence in ordeals of this nature in cases affecting itself are easily divined. It therefore devised others, and amongst them the povalnyï obysk, a sort of inquiry into morals, in high favour in the days of Ivan the Terrible. In this the voice of the people—vox Dei—was supposed to intervene, and to that end a great mass of testimony was indispensable. False witness was severely punished, knouted without mercy. But the effect of this penalty was that most men would not open their lips. As for documentary proof, that did not make its appearance till the end of the sixteenth century. The carrying out of the sentence, in civil matters, often involved very peculiar practices. The condemned party, if a bankrupt, was delivered over to his creditor 'with his head' (golovoiou); in other words, the debtor became his creditor's thing, his slave, till the debt was paid. The solvent debtor who refused to pay was subjected to the praviéje. This means that the recalcitrant was led out in front of the house in which the court sat, and there whipped on the fleshy parts of his legs from morning till night. The severity and efficacy of this display of force were both very uncertain, and depended on the fees given the executioners by the two parties. One debtor would get off without great damage, another might be maimed. The duration of this punishment, undetermined at first, was fixed, between 1555 and 1628, at one month for a sum of 100 roubles; at the expiration of that timethe debtor was to be made over to the creditor. But men of mark possessed the privilege of always being able to escape the praviéje, either by finding substitutes or simply by default.
The extreme venality of the judges was another and a more serious obstacle in the way of an equal-handed administration of justice; over this abuse custom spread a generous cloak of tolerance. In theory, bribes (viatki) were severely forbidden, but in practice, parties presenting themselves at the bar of justice had to lay an offering 'for tapers' before the holy pictures, and at Easter, magistrates of every degree had a right to receive 'red eggs,' accompanied by several ducats each. Vassili, father of the Terrible, heard that a judge, having accepted a sum of money from one of the parties to a suit, and another and smaller sum from the other party, had then given his verdict in favour of the man who had paid him most. The magistrate, summoned before his sovereign, admitted his act, and thought to justify it by saying, 'When I have to deal between a rich and a poor man, I never hesitate about believing the rich man's word, for his interest in deceiving me is smaller.' Vassili smiled, and was merciful.
Let us, in our turn, shew mercy to a society in which the struggle for life was embittered, in every class, by the uncertainty affecting every condition, and let us try to realize the nature of an economic régime under which the inception and maintenance of the praviéje were possible.
VI.—The Economic System.
Apart from the industrial and commercial centres to which reference has already been made, the Russia of the sixteenth century, like the Russia of the present day, was an essentially agricultural country. Yet the art of cultivation tarried in its earliest stages of development, and was limited to the most elementary of methods. The province of Jaroslavl, to the north of Moscow, and the banks of the Oka, from Riazan to Nijni-Novgorod, on the south-east, were reckoned amongst the most productive parts of the country. According to Herberstein, indeed, the lands along the Oka yielded something between twenty and thirty fold. Northward, again, in spite of the severity of the climate, the land along the banks of the Northern Dvina, fertilized by spring floods, produced very large harvests. But little wheat was grown there. The most usual crops were rye, oats, and buckwheat, consumed for the most part in the country. There was a certain amount of exportation to the west, by the seaport of Narva, and at a later date by Arkhangel, and overland into Poland. But this trade could not attain any great volume, for the needs of Europe were not then what they are now. The State paralyzed this, like every other traffic, by its monopolies, and, finally, any large exportation of corn was discouraged as likely to impoverish the country. Prices, too, were so ruled by the yield of each harvest, and by the relative remoteness of the places where it was grown, by war and other troubles affecting the country, that they varied by ten degrees, and all dealings with foreign markets were affected by this fact. On the whole, however, prices ruled very low.
Here I must parenthetically explain the monetary system of the country. The unit then, as now, was the rouble (from roubit, to cut), and each rouble consisted of 100 kopecks. Now, this rouble was supposed to weigh 16 silver zolotniki, weighed, therefore, in precious metal, almost seven times as much as the rouble of the present day, and was reckoned by the English merchants to be worth 16s. 8d. of English money. But after the fifteenth century especially this value suffered a gradual depreciation, resulting from the Muscovite policy, which was even then inaugurating a system the consequence of which now appears to us in a rouble which has fallen to the value of two shillings and a few odd pence. The kopiéïki were originally called diéngi (from the Tartar word ding, money), the present name not having been adopted till towards the middle of the sixteenth century, when these small coins were stamped with the figure of a warrior with a lance (kopié). Even under the father of Ivan the Terrible, the idea of cutting up the rouble into 250 diéngi had been adopted, and, under the pressure of financial necessity, during Ivan's minority, this number was increased to 300. There were two sorts of roubles at that period, for the Novgorod rouble still retained its original weight, and was worth twice as much as the Moscow rouble. This makes it very difficult to calculate the price of food-stuffs from any document of the period.
The small change of the country also included altiny (from the Tartar word alt, six), six-kopeck pieces; grivny, twenty-kopeck pieces; poltiny, or half-roubles (poltiny, half); and copper coins called poloudiéngi or pouli (half-kopecks). The silver diénga, an irregularly-shaped, rather oval coin, borrowed from the Tartars, was so small that it was easily lost. Shop-keepers settling their accounts generally put them in their mouths, fifty at a time. According to several foreign travellers, such as Herberstein and Fletcher and the chroniclers of the period, and according, too, to the calculations of Monsieur Rojkov (loc. cit., p. 202, etc.), the average price of the tchetviért of rye (25 bushels—the tchetviért of those days was half that size) varied, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, between 10 kopecks, the lowest, and 69 kopecks, a high, price. And all other produce was subject to the same fluctuations. This, as compared with present prices, makes an average of 93.9, and we may conclude the purchasing power of the rouble of that day to have been ninety-four times greater, and its value therefore ninety-four times higher, than that of the rouble of ours, But at the close of the century the proportion drops to about 20 to 24, and it is impossible to fix it with any precision.
The price of labour naturally depended on the price of corn. In 1598, we find peasants binding themselves to furnish sawing-wood, to be cut and carried for the building of a bridge, for an agreed price of a diénga and a half. In 1573, an obja, a piece of ground which one man could till with a horse, was to be bought for between 8 and 10 roubles. A house cost 3 roubles. Four cows and twenty sheep were to be had for 4 roubles 16 altines, and a horse for from 1 to 3 roubles.
Crops were taken in a three-years' rotation—rye, oats, and fallow. The peasant who settled on an obja sowed two and a half to three and a half tchetviérti of rye and as much barley, and, if his harvests were good, made as much as 3 roubles a year. His keep having been taken out of this income, he still had to dress himself. A full suit cost him half a rouble, without the belt and gloves, indispensable in cold weather, and for which he had to give 24 kopecks and 6 kopecks. Then he had his taxes, some 75 kopecks to 1 rouble, as it seems, by a reckoning taken in 1555.
But all this only relates to the 'black' lands, on which the free peasants lived. On the 'white' lands the advances given by proprietors towards the farmers' preliminary expenses, and the succour they distributed in times of famine or murrain, made the husbandman's life easier, but endangered his freedom. The peasants settling on communal lands generally obtained a remission of taxes for the first four or even eight years of their tenancy, but they could not reckon on any other advantage. The monastery lands were looked on as an El Dorado, and I have already explained why. Yet, though the monks, less heavily burdened themselves, were in a position to be more lenient with others, the name strada (stradat, to suffer), commonly applied to the forced labour demanded by these landlords, would seem to prove their El Dorado was no paradise.
I have already mentioned one of the causes which acted as an obstacle to the development of the agricultural industry. That celebrated household book, the 'Domostroï,' composed by Pope Sylvester in the reign of Ivan the Terrible, to which I shall make further reference, sheds a curious light on this point. According to this book, all industrial activity seems to have been essentially domesticated. Under the roof of every boïar of that period we see a cluster of workshops, which supply all the home needs of the establishment, and make any external development of the same trades a matter of impossibility.
Yet carpentering, joinery, boat-building, that fashioning of small wooden utensils and objects which has attained such extensive proportions in the particular form of industrial activity now known as koustar, had existed and been general in the country from a very early date. At Kosmodiémiansk, near Nijni-Novgorod, there was a celebrated industry in chests, and there were others, famous for their red-leather and seal-skin appointments, at Kholmogory. The sledges made at Viazma and the wooden spoons produced at Kalouga were also highly renowned, but none of this was exceedingly profitable merchandise. The Kholmogory chests were used to carry wares to Moscow, and then sold there at very low prices. A hundred Kalouga spoons were worth 20 altines, and a Viazma sleigh was to be had for a poltina.
Trade, though comparatively stronger, was still starved. In the matter of exports it was almost exclusively confined to raw materials. The first place was held by furs, and 500,000 roubles' worth were sold in Europe and Asia every year. The finest sables came from Obdorsk, in the present Government of Tobolsk. White bearskins came from the banks of the Piétchora, and sealskins from the Kola Peninsula. A fine sable skin cost as much as thirty gold florins; a boïar's cap trimming, in black fox, was worth fifteen. But ermine was little sought after in those days, and an ermine skin could be bought for 3 or 4 diéngi. Wax held the second place in the external trade of the country; about 50,000 pounds were exported every year. Tallow came next, a considerable quantity, some 30,000 or 40,000 pounds, being sent annually out of the provinces of Smolensk, Jaroslavl, Ouglitch, Novgorod, Vologda, and Tver. Within the boundaries of Russia this commodity was not very largely consumed, for the rich used wax candles, and the poor burnt torches made of resinous wood. The honey so abundantly produced in the provinces of Riazan and Mourom, and, later, round Kazan, was principally employed in brewing the favourite beverage of the country, but a certain quantity was also sent abroad, Pskov and Novgorod, Jaroslavl and Vologda, exporting as much as 10,000 pounds a year. For elk-skins, too, much praised by Fletcher, there was a foreign demand. The finest elks were to be found in the forests near Rostov, Vytchegda, Novgorod, Mourom, and Perm. The oxen were too small to be of much mercantile value. The neighbourhood of Arkhangel sent seal-oil to the foreign markets, and the fisheries of Jaroslavl, Nijni-Novgorod, Biélooziéro, and Astrakhan—after the conquest of that country—furnished abundance of fish and fish-roes, already much sought after by English, Dutch, and French merchants. These were sold even in Italy and Spain. In his 'Treatise on the Sarmatians,' published in 1521, Matthew Miechovski speaks of the whale-fisheries in the White Sea. But it seems strange that efforts which have so frequently failed in later times should have been successful at this period. Most probably, as Monsieur Zamyslovski opines, all that was then done was to turn a few stranded whales to account (see his study in the Revue du Min. de l'Istr. Publ., published May, 1882, p. 67). Certain varieties of birds had a constant sale abroad—gerfalcons, especially, brought very high prices. Flax from Pskov, and hemp from Smolensk, Dorokhobouje, and Viazma, all found foreign purchasers, and so did the salt from the Staraïa-Roussa salt-works, and the tar from Smolensk and Dvinsk. Persia took all the walrus teeth, using them both for industrial purposes and in the preparation of much vaunted remedies and antidotes against poison. Mica, found in great quantities on the banks of the Dvina and in Carelia, was used instead of glass all over the country, and was also exported with other mineral products, such as saltpetre, prepared at Ouglitch, Jaroslavl, and Oustioug; sulphur, taken out of the lakes of Samara; and iron from the mines of Carelia and those near Kargopol and Oustioujna.
Some manufactured articles, though principally consumed at home, found a certain number of purchasers abroad. Tartary took saddles, bridles, linens, cloths, and garments, and sent back Asiatic horses in their stead. The European merchants brought ingot silver, gold thread, copper, cloth, looking-glasses, lace, cutlery, needles, purses, wines, and fruits. Their Asiatic comrades sold silk stuffs, gold tissues, carpets, pearls, and gems. Both were bound to bring all their merchandise to Moscow, where the Sovereign, having made his own selection in the first place, gave them leave to offer the rest for public sale. Peter the Great's daughter was to claim this privilege, with regard to the merchants who brought fashions from France, in later days.
The meeting-place of all the merchants was at the confluence of the Mologa and the Volga. Here, in ancient days, had stood a little town, called the 'town of the slaves' (Kholopii gorodok), of which a church was the only remaining vestige. This town had been founded, according to tradition, by Novgorod slaves, who had fled from the rage of their masters, whose honour they had cruelly outraged during an absence which had proved too long for the virtue of the wives they behind them. The fair held on this spot was the most famous in all Russia. It lasted four months, and filled the huge estuary with such an army of boats, packed close together, that men passed dryfoot from one shore to the other. German, Polish, Lithuanian, Greek, Italian, Persian merchants, crowded along the shores, and exposed their wares in a huge meadow, circled with temporary inns and wineshops. These last establishments numbered as many as seventy, and the bartering round about them was so extensive as to be worth 180 pounds of silver to the Sovereign, year in and year out. These operations, indeed, were nearly all carried out in kind, and no coin passed. Coined money was an uncommon thing, as a rule, monopolized by a few rare capitalists, and especially by the Sovereign, the greatest hoarder in the country.
The only rival of this fair, as regards business and extent, was that held at Lampojnia, to which I have already referred, and which did a special and considerable trade in furs bought from the Samoyedes. For an axe, these savages would give as many sable skins as could be passed, all bound together, through the hole into which the wooden haft fitted. The Lithuanian merchants had their own special meeting-place, close to a monastery of the Trinity—not the celebrated abbey of that name in the province of Moscow—on the banks of the Dnieper, in the province of Smolensk.
These exchanges with foreign countries were detestably one-sided, for the Russian products were generally sold at very low prices, and foreign merchandise was very dear. An archine (2733 inches) of velvet, damask, or satin, cost a rouble, a piece of fine English cloth 30 roubles, a barrel of French wine 4 roubles. Gold crowns were also imported merchandise, the coinage of the country not sufficing for its needs, and these paid duty like any other commodity.
The Russian merchants of that period, though their cleverness and spirit of enterprise were much admired, otherwise enjoyed a sufficiently evil reputation. Foreigners were never tired of complaining of their cunning and bad faith, and this without exception, save as to the men of Pskov and Novgorod, though, even in their case, the fame of their ancient honesty was tarnished. The local proverb, 'Merchandise is made for the eyes,' was freely applied, and so was the habit of raising the price asked for a thing tenfold if the would-be purchaser happened to appear rich and simple-minded. Wholesale merchants generally employed experts, but these very frequently tried to get money out of both parties to the bargain. Foreigners noticed that the more a merchant called on God, and took Him to witness as to his own honesty, the more he was likely to cheat them. Dishonest dealings as to the quality, origin, and weight of merchandise, the sale of imitations, the substitution of one article for another, just before it was delivered—these were common practices.
The success of foreign traders—the sort of privilege over the Muscovite markets, won as early as in the fifteenth century, by various importing and exporting houses, German, Flemish, and Dutch, previous to the real monopoly of the English company—are in great measure explained by these odious proceedings. Not, indeed, that the foreigners did not end by imitating them to some extent. Herberstein admits that it was no uncommon thing to see them selling an article not worth more than one or two ducats, for twelve.
The Russian, ignorant, and cheated himself as often as he cheated others, fleeced by the State, which did not give him proper protection, deceived by the very foreigners who complained of his dishonest dealings and themselves did likewise, looked on trade as a warfare, in which stratagem of every kind was legitimate and almost necessary. The bonds and burdens laid on his industry by the greed and clumsiness of those who ruled him were endless. The Empire was cut up into little commercial provinces, each covering a radius of from 10 to 20 versts round its central town or village. Within the limits of each province no exchange was allowed, except at the central point. This was to prevent any shirking of taxation. The taxes, huge and innumerable already, were aggravated by a system of farming which opened the door wide to abuse and exaction. The merchandise, before it reached its market, had to pass under the Caudine Forks of an exaggerated fiscal system. There were toll-bars on the roads, there were dues for crossing rivers, there were Custom-houses at the gate of every town. If the town was a river-town, there were charges on the embarkation and landing of goods. If it contained a gostinnyi dvor, the merchant must take up his quarters there, and pay the regulation tax. Dues for going in, dues for coming out, storage dues, and dues on the sale of everything that went out of the warehouse. If a horse was sold, there were dues on the brand and the written contract; if it was a pound of salt, there were dues on the weight.
Imagine a peasant coming into the market with the results of his humble toil. There must be a great deal of that to make up a rouble's worth. A horse, or two cows, or twenty geese, or ten sheep, or some ten tchetviérti of rye, or four sleighs. And he has already spent eight or ten diéngi on his way in—more than the value of one day's work. By the time he has sold his horse he will have spent another fifteen.
The system, indeed, was by no means peculiar to the country. It was the common rule at a period when France still preserved the remnants of a not less irksome and oppressive feudal system, under which the ancient telonium, converted into the tonlieu, and the antique vinagrum, now called the vientrage, fleeced merchants as they passed through each territory; and in the year 1567 there were between 100 and 150 crossing-places on the Loire alone at which fees were paid; while (see Lavisse and Rambaud, Hist. Générale, iv., p. 201) a case of mercery goods, sent from Paris to Rouen, paid pedlar's fees before it left the city, paid again at Neuilly, at St. Denis, at Chatou, at Le Pecq, at Maisons, at Conflans, at Poissy, at Triél, at Meulan, at Mantes, at La Roche-Guyon, at Vernon, at Les Andelys, at Pont-de-l'Arche, on Rouen Bridge, and, if it was to be sent to England, paid again, at Rouen itself, the droits de vicomté, de rêve et de haut passage, not to mention the Admiralty shipping license, freight, pilot's fees, and all the rest.
Yet in France Louis XI. had endeavoured to reduce the number of these dues, which had enormously increased during the anarchy of the Hundred Years' War. They were largely the outcome of anarchy. In Russia, on the contrary, they were the result of a system which grew worse and worse as the needs and demands of the State increased, and which was complicated and encumbered by a mass of minor regulations suggested by economic ideas, of which I have already pointed out the dangerous tendency. A Lithuanian merchant who had brought a quantity of cloth-stuffs to Moscow, and there taken over a corresponding quantity of beeswax, added a few trifling silver articles, and saw the whole of his merchandise seized, because the exportation of the precious metals was forbidden.
Trade still had to suffer from the general poverty of the urban centres. The towns were built of wood as a rule, and paved, when they were paved at all, with the same material. And once in ten years, for the most part, they were burnt down. After the fire of 1541, which consumed the whole of the Slav quarter at Novgorod—some 908 houses—another, in 1554, devoured over 1500 dwellings. One of the chronicles of the city—the second—is hardly more than a calendar of these periodical misfortunes. No precautions were taken to prevent a recurrence of the disaster. It was not till 1560 that it occurred to anybody to establish, near the dwellings, some of those troughs filled with water and those hooks shaped like huge brooms which may be seen to this day in the country parts of Russia at the entrances of the isbas, which are in constant danger of destruction. In 1570, the Government issued an order that no bath was to be heated in summer, and no bread baked, even, except in outdoor ovens.
To this may be added the condition of the roads in a country which, for want of the necessary materials, has to do without metalled highroads even now. From the port of St. Nicholas, on the White Sea, when the English landed there, to Vologda, where they opened their first counting-house, they had to travel fourteen times twenty-four hours by water, and eight days by road in winter; in summer-time the land road was impracticable for a long period. The journey from Vologda to Jaroslavl was reckoned at two days, that from Jaroslavl to Arkhangel at twenty, all by water. Between Novgorod and Narva, a most important line for foreign exports, the land road consisted of mere paths running through forests and over marshes. There were no inns, and very few villages. The country between Novgorod and Moscow was a desert, and summer travellers had the greatest difficulty in getting from Moscow to Vilna. The only tolerably convenient and pretty nearly practicable road at every season of the year was that between Pskov and Riga, on the western frontier. Thus, in summer-time heavy merchandise was transported exclusively by water, and in winter over the frozen snow. It was no uncommon thing, in the winter season, to meet 700 or 800 sledges, all laden with grain or fish. They travelled in large bands, as a rule, fearing the armed attacks so frequent in those days.
This state of insecurity was general. On the east, Tartars made perpetual incursions into the country, stripping and murdering travellers. In the south, there were Cossacks and robbers everywhere. On the Volga, pirate bands even defied the military expeditions sent out year after year to put them down.
Foreign travellers have noted one feature which, in connection with those to which I have just referred, strikes us as surprising—excellent posting arrangements. When the roads were good—in winter, that is to say—the 524 versts between Novgorod and Moscow could be covered in seventy-two hours, at a very moderate charge—6 kopecks for a stage of 20 versts—and the traveller could get as many relays of horses as he wanted. A tired horse was quickly replaced—left behind, and a fresh one taken in its stead, in the nearest village, or from the first passerby. This was the Tsar's service, and the traveller only had to show a way-bill signed by the proper authority to insure his being served in this fashion. In summer, indeed, the scene changed. The horses were out at pasture, or working in the fields, and hours would slip by before the necessary team could be collected. But at that season travellers preferred the waterways, on which there were boats and rowers, also belonging to the State.
This was a legacy from the Tartar conquest, which partly owed its startling successes to the extreme rapidity and clever handling of its transport. It must not be forgotten that France had no posting system till Louis XI. established one by edict in 1464, and then with an exclusively political object, to convey the King's couriers. Russia has ever been a country of surprises.
But this single advantage did not compensate, in the sixteenth century, for the other causes of inferiority which paralyzed her economic life. In the year 1553, 25,000 corpses were buried in the cemeteries at Pskov, without reckoning the unknown number left to rot in the open country. This was the plague, a scourge as periodic in its visitations as fire. In the spring of 1565 it was raging at Louki, at Toropiéts, and at Smolensk; in the autumn it was at Polotsk. The following year it was to ravage Novgorod, Staraïa-Roussa, Pskov again, Mojaïsk, and even Moscow itself. Before the plague, or behind it, or with it, as in 1570, came famine. And the means devised to stamp out the disease were as fierce as the pest itself. In 1551 the Pskov merchants suspected of being infected were driven out of Novgorod, and those who resisted were burnt alive. So were any priests who dared to visit the sick.
As a matter of fact, famine was endemic, the normal condition of the country. The Englishman Jenkinson, a clever business man and a sagacious observer, mentions eighty-four persons as having perished under his eyes, within a very short period of time, for lack of sustenance—of a little straw, in other words, for dried and pounded straw was the ordinary winter food of many of the natives, who lived in summer on grass, roots, and the bark of trees (Hakluyt, i, p. 323). The foreign observer complains, in this connection, of the inhumanity of the inhabitants of the country, who were unmoved by the sight of their fellow-creatures falling down and dying of hunger in the streets. This trait occurs whenever the general poverty induces a general hardening of the human heart. In sixteenth-century Russia, wealth, even ease, was an exceptional phenomenon.
Apart from the monasteries, hardly any family, except the Stroganovs, owned any considerable fortune. Fletcher reckons that this house, besides its landed properties, which were huge, its farming establishments, which ran from the banks of the Vytchegda to the Siberian frontier, and its industrial establishments, in which it employed 10,000 free labourers and 5,000 serfs, owned 300,000 roubles in hard cash. It paid 23,000 roubles of taxes to the State, but the State was ruining it by its perpetually increasing demands, and to the State system must be ascribed the fact that the Stroganovs were such an exception to the general rule.
The State and the Church, a Baal with two faces, devoured everything, sucked the national riches, and dried up their fount—the State by its exactions, the Church by the usurious interest on her loans. Everybody was in debt, and the poorest paid the interest on what they owed in labour, thus rendered valueless to the general economy, and contributing nothing towards the building up of the public wealth. The formula whereby the man, the woman, and sometimes the whole family, children included, undertook to labour 'for the interest' (za rost sloujiti ve dvoïé po vsiadni) occurred more and more frequently in the constantly increasing number of contracts between borrower and lender.
The scarcity of coinage, to which I have already referred, was in itself a symptom of the general distress. Until the close of this century, according to Guagnino, squirrel skins were used as currency, and, indeed, Peter the Great paid his functionaries their salaries in the same fashion. Yet there was a free coinage in the sixteenth century, the State only intervening to verify weights and designations. Some artisans, indeed, were given the right to stamp their own names on their coins. A great deal of ingot silver was also used, and the ancient Novgorod coins, of which Chaudoir gives us facsimiles in his book (Aperçu sur les Monnaies Russes, 1836), were nothing but ingots, either. The habit of regarding gold and silver as merchandise was long to linger in the Russian mind. But there was a shortage in the supply of raw material. Though the mines, contrary to the assertions of Paulus Jovius (Pauli Jovii Descriptiones, i., 1571), were not entirely unproductive, though even in 1482 Ivan III. was asking the Hungarian King Matthius Korvinus to send him engineers to work fresh ones, and though argentiferous soil had been discovered in 1491 on the banks of the Tsylma, an affluent of the Piétchora, the supply of metals was, and Russia depended, in this respect, on foreign countries. As to gold, the only coins in circulation were foreign—Hungarian, Dutch, Polish, and Florentine ducats, and English shiff-nobles and rose-nobles. And amongst the silver currency, numbers of Dutch florins, German thalers, generally known as efimki (Joachim’s Thaler), and English shillings figured. Gold pieces were so rare that any event which brought about a larger demand for them, such as a marriage or baptism in the Sovereign's family, or the despatch of a foreign mission, resulted in a sudden rise in value, sometimes amounting to doubling the value of each gold coin. On such occasions as marriages and christenings the Sovereign received gifts of ducats from the boïars and the representatives of the various constituted bodies; and Ambassadors, even in Poland, needed gold pieces if they were to make any decent show.
The Sovereign always had all he needed in his cellars. He was the very wealthy master of a very poor country. He dazzled everybody, even the Western world, by his riches; but it is impossible to come to an absolutely clear understanding of the amount of these, nor of the manner in which they were acquired. I shall consequently limit myself to a very few brief remarks upon this subject.
We have no information touching the Muscovite Budget until the close of the sixteenth century. In the last years of that century, under the son of Ivan IV., Fletcher calculated the revenue of the Empire at 1,400,000 roubles, of which 400,000 were supplied by direct and 800,000 by indirect taxation. Taken in connection with such documents concerning the reign of Alexis as we possess, these figures seem near the truth, and lead us to suppose the receipts under the Terrible to have been about 1,200,000 roubles. In England, at that period, there was no direct taxation at all, and consumers' taxes only brought in 140,000 crowns, Henry VIII.'s whole revenue not exceeding a million of crowns. Taking the rouble of those days at 16s. 8d., Ivan IV. asked four times as much from his subjects as Henry VIII. demanded of his (see Philippson, Westeuropa im Zeitalter von Philipp II., 1882, p. 59).
In reality he got a great deal more out of them. The great resource of the Muscovite Sovereign was the land, which was parcelled out among his 'service men,' and supplied all the essential needs of the State, the upkeep of the army and administration. Thus it was that the Sovereign was able to hoard up riches. War material and the pay of the few troops who formed the nucleus of the regular army did, indeed, involve a fairly heavy outlay. Three-quarters of his revenue, according to some authorities, were swallowed up by it. But, at all events, he was able to put by the remaining quarter, for to keep up his Court the Grand Duke, like every other European Sovereign, had his own patrimony—thirty-six towns, with the villages and hamlets depending on them, and these, besides a money payment, sent him corn, cattle, fish, honey, and forage, which not only supplied the necessities of the Court, large as it was, but were sold in considerable quantities. Ivan IV. thus made an additional income of 60,000 roubles a year, and his successor, a more economical man, increased the sum to 230,000 roubles.
These features have come down, in a measure, to our own times. They formed an integral part of a régime which has stood the brunt of centuries, and has insured the country which had the docility to submit to it material greatness and strength at all events, if not prosperity, together with an enormous power of concentration and expansion. The secret of this docility remains to be discovered. We may discover it, perhaps, in the course of our endeavour to understand the mind of a people which, with such means, has accomplished so great things.